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Israel election: Leaked recordings reveal Gantz would sit in Netanyahu government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (L) visit a tactical headquarters of the IDF in southern Israel near the border with Gaza on July 21, 2014 in near Beersheba, Israel. [Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), and the then Israeli Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (L) visit a tactical headquarters of the Israeli Army in southern Israel near the border with Gaza on July 21, 2014 in near Beersheba, Israel. [Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images]

Leaked recordings have revealed that leader of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance Benny Gantz would consider sitting in a government led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should the latter win Israel's upcoming general election.

In the recordings – which were broadcast yesterday by Israel's Channel 13 – Gantz can be heard telling an unknown other that he would consider serving in a Netanyahu government, albeit with conditions. Gantz's conditions seem to be that Netanyahu's right-wing allies are left out of any coalition after the 9 April election and that he agree to step down from the premiership during his impending corruption trial, the Jerusalem Post reported.

In the private conversation, Gantz said:

I cannot sit with him [Netanyahu] if he is indicted after the hearing. That would be completely crazy. [But] let's say he wins the election and a week later [US President Donald] Trump reveals his plan [the so-called 'deal of the century'] and the people of Israel look at Benny Gantz and say 'help Netanyahu', when I get to that moment, I will need to see. Because if not, [National Union leader Bezalel] Smotrich will kill the last chance [for peace].

As for Netanyahu's impending corruption trial – which according to Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will begin before July – Gantz suggested that the prime minister would need to step down for two months until the hearing is over, the Times of Israel reported. Gantz claimed "we'll make some sort of arrangement," alluding to the possibility of him standing in for Netanyahu as prime minister during that time.

Although "Channel 13 did not specify when the comments were made, the recordings appeared to have been from the last several weeks". This is the third time that recordings of Gantz's private conversations have been leaked to the Israeli press, leading the Blue and White alliance to search for a mole within its ranks.

After a recording of Gantz saying that Netanyahu "wanted him harmed" and would "kill him" was leaked to the press last week, senior Blue and White candidate Moshe Ya'alon alluded to the possibility that a remote listening device had been used to tap the conversations, rather than a human mole. However, at a Tel Aviv press conference with Gantz this weekend, Blue and White number two Yair Lapid said the campaign was not looking for a mole "because we have nothing to hide".

READ: Netanyahu calls for corruption investigation into Gantz after police deal exposed

This is not the first time Gantz has flip-flopped over the possibility of joining a Netanyahu government. Since he announced in December that he would stand in the general election, Gantz has tried to paint himself as the "anti-Netanyahu", claiming to put "Israel before everything" while criticising Netanyahu for being too preoccupied with battling allegations of corruption to run the country effectively.

Gantz doubled-down on this position in February when Attorney General Mandelblit recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for corruption, pending a court hearing. Speaking at the time, Gantz said: "Netanyahu, I call on you to show full national responsibility and resign from your position. You can return to politics with your head up when you prove you are innocent." Gantz also ruled out sitting with Netanyahu in government, saying: "After the attorney general's decision, sitting in a government led by Netanyahu is no longer an option."

Yet in another recorded conversation leaked in March, Gantz appeared to contradict his previous statement by saying the possibility of working with Netanyahu remained open. According to Haaretz, in the recording Gantz said he had "deliberately chosen the words 'in the situation that has been created' so as not to close the door [for cooperation] all the way and lock it."

However, that very same day Gantz gave a press conference to discuss new details surrounding the so-called "submarine affair" (often known as Case 3000) and again appeared to rule out working with Netanyahu. Though Netanyahu was previously cleared of any involvement in the affair – which refers to a series of allegations against close associates of the prime minister, who it is claimed lobbied Israeli defence officials to sign deals with German shipbuilding firm ThyssenKrupp – new evidence suggests that Netanyahu bought shares in a ThyssenKrupp supplier at below-market value and reaped millions of shekels in profit.

Speaking about the revelations, Gantz stressed that "the statements in the recording aired on television were made before the details of the serious indictments against Netanyahu were revealed in full and certainly before it was known that he received 16 million shekels [$4.4 million] in a backhanded deal for submarines and lied to the public on serious security matters." Gantz concluded: "I am saying, not in an anonymous recording but openly and in my voice: I will not sit with Netanyahu in the government."

READ: Israeli PM Netanyahu will sue political rivals for libel

This inconsistency will do little to help Gantz's prospects of victory as campaigning enters its final week. The latest polls indicate that the result is far from guaranteed, with Netanyahu and Gantz neck-and-neck and repeatedly vying for the top spot. Though Gantz's campaign started strong and he indeed remains the only realistic challenger to Netanyahu, incidents such as this have shaken the calm, calculated image he and his team worked hard to craft in the first few months of his campaign.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has remained fairly consistent in his campaign, repeatedly attacking Gantz by claiming he is not fit to be prime minister, holds left-wing views and would need to work with Israel's predominantly Arab parties to form a coalition. Even if Gantz wins the election outright, he may find himself unable to garner the 61 seats needed to form a majority government, a task Netanyahu would find easier given the strength of the right-wing bloc, which has vowed to support him after 9 April.

READ: Latest polls show Gantz maintaining narrow lead over Netanyahu

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